The established Norwegian string duo of Kari Rønnekleiv and Ole-Henrik Moe offer up their fourth album on Sofa, and it comprises four long pieces of soundscaping that are part drone, part ambient, part experimental, part environmental. Each one is an exercise in spaciousness and reflection. Tones arrive and depart in slow waves, and every progression is gradual. It is pitched as a tribute to the fireplace, as a place to gather, tell stories, and achieve calm, but it also has decidedly dark undertones, of solitude and loneliness. It was even recorded by a fireplace it seems, though the sound is not invasive.
First piece “Hearth, Red Gloom, with lot of Near-Ir” is quite a bold form of drone, a steady level of extended string sounds that feels like it borders on science fiction. “Great Spruce-log” is notably scratchy compared to the rest, a gradual series of sharp-toothed bowed sounds that is the release’s closest flirtation with actual rhythm, and which listeners averse to more tortured sounds will find uncomfortable, while “Under-ash-embers, with Hints of Green Light in Spectrum”, before further scratching sounds arrive, feels like listening to nocturnal winds from the partial comfort of a cabin- very evocative of a true Northern Lights experience, or at least my limited experience of them, which was cold, slow and majestic, but still worthwhile.
This is one of those releases where at some points, like the beginnings of “Muted Birch-logs”, the overall levels are so low and ambient that it becomes necessary to turn off the air-conditioning in the room I’m listening in in order to be able to hear it properly. Given the hot weather as I write this, that’s a bit of an inconvenience, though it’s not really one I can blame the composers for!
It’s deeply atmospheric and evocative, not always in a comfortable way, but as a 70-minute portrait of Nordic beauty in isolation, it’s really quite powerful.
Julia Reidy’s debut on the Emotions Mego label consists of two pieces, averaging 17 minutes each, of steadily shifting and unpredictable soundscaping that feels like an inversion of dream-pop. Whilst there’s the wistful vocals, strung-out notes and slow atmospherics that are decidedly mellow at times, it’s undercut, very severely, by darker drones, toothy electronics and elements that feel like they’ve been sequestered from the fringes of prog rock. It’s a recipe that feels unfamiliar, and sometimes quite uncomfortable.
In second piece “Oh Boy”, this contrast is sometimes quite stark- the twisty distorted electric guitar noises that fall away to be replaced by a folksy acoustic guitar riff around the six minute mark as an example. Overall it is slightly calmer and more spacious than first piece “Clairvoyant”, which features more stuttering and production touches, as well as an interesting line in stop-start use of environmental found sound and thin-sounding percussive acoustic noises.
So it’s dream-pop with edge, but it would be misleading to call it nightmare-pop by any stretch. Unsettled dream pop, maybe? The kind of music you don’t want to fall asleep to, you want to stay awake to listen to.
The digital release is August 14th, but physical copies will be available in September.
“Planktos” is a series of musique concrète works, divided into five movements and running almost four hours in total. It’s an exploration of electroacoustic sounds, predominantly drones, hums and pulses, with a stretched out and mesmerising slow attitude and a lot of long, low, bass tones- but it’s not electro-ambient or pure drone, and there are melodic layers, arhythmic percussive sounds and some sharper electronic twists and glitches along the way.
Some of it is two-tone electronic, that gradual rocking between two pitches that feels like being lulled to sleep by a robot- the end of the first part of movement 1 typifies this, and there are smoother more slow-breathing-like waves to be found as well. Acoustic instruments make appearances that feel somewhat like cameos, such as the sparse harp-like melody in movement 2 part 1, and parts are nothing less than melodic, including the haunting and Ligeti-ish movement 2 part 4.
At times there is a decidedly Radiophonic Workshop feel, prompting unavoidable subliminal feelings of watching alien worlds in black-and-white- movement 1 part 4, or the anti-gravity spaceship landing of movement 3 part 2, being examples, and the sudden synth wash nine minutes into movement 4 part 4 could hardly be more Peter Davison-era Doctor Who if it tried. The curious alien monkey noise (I think from manually tweaked sine oscillators) that pervades several parts becomes something of a recurring theme. This isn’t always comfortable- the squealing tones at the start of movement 2, and the tinnitus-tingling high tones at the end of it, are both of the nails-down-a-blackboard type that some listeners will grind their teeth in discomfort at, and the insectoid sounds towards the end of movement 3 might not sit nicely with certain phobias either, invoking thoughts of creatures much weirder than the jellyfish in the artwork.
Movement 3 is not industrial per se, but there’s certainly an increased sense of activity initially, distant rumbles and pneumatic tones that feels like business, and this makes the contrast with the purer melodic sections (e.g. the end of movement 3 part 1) feel like more of a relief, in a positive way. Curiously, the warm melodic aftermath and persistent monkey-like noises in this end up throwing up comparisons with Future Sound Of London works, despite the alleged genre mismatch.
Although movement 5 has the label ‘Ocean’, and certainly has its squelchy expansive but high-pressure feel, for me it’s movement 4 that most reflects the aquatic artwork, with part 1 a particularly bubbly and wet-sounding piece with some distant whalesong-like noises. But the sense of alienation persists, with a texture that’s more gelatinous than oceanic, and continued glitching and grasshopper-like scratching. “Calming sounds of the sea”, this certainly isn’t.
The movements are broken into pieces of varying lengths (not counting the 2-second pauses between movements), though many of these pieces could easily have been broken down into far more and smaller chunks too, with parts like movement 3 part 4 arguably a series of related vignettes. But broadly, each movement is 40 minutes and could standalone as its own independent work, if you wanted to consider it a ‘five for the price of one’ musique concrète multipack. With enough imagination, you could regard the five movements as a long sci-fi journey, travelling between different alien planets and the deep space inbetween, but in more sonic-specific terms the progression or order in the five movements is less obvious. While each certainly has its own character, or perhaps is better described as having its own priorities, it does feel as though you could drop into these movements in any order for equal impact.
Over the course of nearly four hours, it is an engrossing journey and it certainly has the capability of switching your headspace and mood entirely. It’s not overtly chillout music, nor is it routinely calm, yet it has some of the same heart rate lowering and entrancing effects that the best of such music can offer. Indulge yourself in a long dive into this collection that’s neither one thing nor another, and see how you feel when you come out the other side.
The self-titled debut release of Cernichov was actually recorded some time ago - between October 2017 and April 2018 - but got recently discovered and reissued by limited edition specialists Cathedral Transmissions from the UK (whose version is already sold out as of today).
It's 5 tracks, developed as the first collaboration from Bruxelles based David Gutman (who also releases experimental ambient and improvised music as Drawing Virtual Gardens a.o.) with Torino based Marco Mazzucchelli, are too refreshing to be called Dark Ambient.
There is constant movement, transformation and a sublimity in the use of sounds which makes it easy to listen to this as a whole. None of the tracks outstays it's welcome, in fact my favourite is even the longest one "Dissipated Poets".
The well constructed and mastered pieces are drones - painting a mood picture which is open to individual interpretation. As such they actually work as ambience too and very well.
As of now Cernichov are working on their second Album which should appear later this year and is definitively something to look forward to.
“Field Works: Ultrasonic” is the work of Stuart Hyatt, but with guest contributors on every track, it almost steps across into being a various artists compilation. Hyatt’s musical tone persists throughout however, giving a consistent backbone, which is primarily warm pads and drones with subtle atmospherics, as exemplified by the track “Torpor” with Ben Lukas Boysen. The result is a chilled out work where the guests bring the breadth.
This is normally a fairly straightforward fusion. Mary Lattimore’s harp on “Silver Secrets” or Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s piano (I think) on “Night Swimming” are given centre stage and allowed to play out, sometimes in loose and abstract fashion, sometimes in gently repeating and evolving patterns, with gentle reverb easing their tone into conjunction with the pads underneath.
Some pieces have a little more energy, such as “Sodalis” with Kelly Moran which adds a gently rolling bass pattern, or the surprisingly EDM-like pulsing synth of “A Place Both Wonderful And Strange” with Noveller. But for the most part, this is relaxation music.
It’s also a concept album about bats, incidentally, and claims that it could be “perhaps the first-ever album to use the echolocations of bats as compositional source material”. For the most part you wouldn’t notice this, and while there’s certainly a sense of nocturnal calm, there’s not a lot of audible connection with what you’d conventionally think of as bat sounds, save for a few book-ends that briefly open or close pieces, and the unexpected spoken-word poetry of final piece “Between The Hawthorn And Extinction” which gently explains why bats are a cause, without proselytizing.
“Echo Affinity” with Taylor Deupree is a notable exception, the soft clicking sounds playing well against romantic piano, and their appearance at the start of “Music For A Room With Vaulted Ceiling” with Christina Vantzou is strongly reminiscent of the Alex Paterson style of ambient, in a very good way. “Night Vision It Touched My Neck”, with Felicia Atkinson, is perhaps the only truly ‘bat-centric’ piece, a curious call-and-response between bat sounds and light piano noises- though the tinnitus-tickling high-pitched tones of “Indiana Blindfold” might in fact be an album *for* bats, rather than about them...
It’s a sonic comfort blanket, soft and thick and large, but with enough detail and eventfulness to keep a more active listener’s attention as well. It’s even suitable for people who are scared of bats! It’s been available digitally for a couple of months already, but physical copies are available from July 26th.